In Focus: December 2014

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CANON EF 16-35mm F/4L IS USM
For my Canon EOS 5D Mark III outfit, the original 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 L-series lens was a mainstay. When Canon introduced the Mark II version of the lens, it was a clear improvement, but at a price that gave me pause. This year, Canon came out with an ƒ/4 image-stabilized L-series 16-35mm, and I jumped at it. I like having the IS, but it’s the overall optical performance that really made me pull out my credit card. Because I seldom shoot wide open with the 16-35mm, I didn’t feel like I was losing out with the ƒ/4 maximum aperture, and the size, weight, performance and price are all superior to the ƒ/2.8 version. Estimated Street Price: $1,199. Contact: Canon, —CR

What’s better than an ultrawide HD POV camera with image stabilization and a built-in stereo mic for capturing your adventures hands-free? How about up to five of them, all controlled by a wrist-mounted Live View Remote? Sony‘s Action Cam Mini features Zeiss optics with a 170º angle of view and can record 11.9-megapixel stills in addition to 1080/60p video. The camera is splashproof, but comes with a waterproof housing that’s rated to 15 feet. The Live View Remote is also included. Estimated Street Price: $349. Contact: Sony, —WP

Assuming you’d rather be shooting than retouching in post, keeping your glass clean is a constant duty. Hoya‘s EVO Antistatic filters promise to help reduce the need for lens cloths and such. The engineered coating repels dust and water, is stain- and scratch-resistant, and makes it easy to wipe away fingerprints. Three versions are currently available: a circular polarizer, and UV and protector filters with no optical effect. Estimated Street Price: Varies by size and type. Contact: Kenko Tokina USA, —WP

lenses are stunning. In 2013, Zeiss launched the Otus line of primes for full-frame DSLRs with the 55mm ƒ/1.4, and they said there would be more to come. In 2014, they made good on that with the 85mm ƒ/1.4, and I had a chance to use one for a few days. The sharpness is magnificent across the frame at all apertures, and I saw no color fringing in any of my photos. Unlike my wide-angle zoom, the 85mm focal length is one that I’ll often use wide open, so having the ƒ/1.4 maximum aperture is most welcome. This kind of performance comes at a price, but if you rely on the 85mm focal length, the Zeiss Otus lens is worth it. Estimated Street Price: $4,490. Contact: Zeiss, —CR

Knowing you should carry a tripod for the sharpest shots isn’t the same as wanting to carry a tripod. Manfrotto’s Befree aims to reduce the burden with its extremely compact and lightweight design. Available in carbon fiber (2.4 pounds) and aluminum (3 pounds), the Befree folds down to just 15.7 inches and comes with a convenient padded bag for carrying. With the legs and center column fully extended, the Befree reaches a height of just under 57 inches and can support up to 8.8 pounds of gear. Estimated Street Price: From $199. Contact: Manfrotto, —WP

AF-S NIKKOR 20mm F/1.8g ED
Sure to be a favorite lens for landscape and travel photographers, the new AF-S Nikkor 20mm ƒ/1.8G ED provides a dramatic wide-angle view when used with FX-format cameras, and a still relatively wide 30mm equivalent perspective with DX cameras, with a fast ƒ/1.8 max aperture ideal for low-light photography. The 20mm joins Nikon’s growing family of ƒ/1.8 FX-format primes, which also includes 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm focal lengths. Estimated Street Price: $799. Contact: Nikon, —WP

I never liked neck straps until I started using the BlackRapid slings. When I saw the first model, I thought, “Who would use this?” and when I attached it to my DSLR, I thought, “Why didn’t anyone make one of these before?” The Cross Shot the company introduced this year is a nicely thinned-down strap that lies across the body. You can orient the strap such that the camera can hang on the left or right. The nonslip rubber shoulder pad is comfortable without the bulk of extra foam, and it’s available in orange. Estimated Street Price: $45. Contact: BlackRapid, —CR

Pentax offers DSLRs with excellent image quality and weather-resistance, making them great options for the outdoor/nature shooter. The big drawback for wildlife photographers has been the lack of long lenses: The DA* 300mm ƒ/4 SDM and DA 560mm ƒ/5.6 are the only high-performance ones in the current lineup. So the introduction of the HD DA AF 1.4X AW Rear Converter is especially welcome news. The unit turns the DA* 300mm ƒ/4 into a 420mm ƒ/5.6, retaining the weather resistance, 4.6-foot minimum focusing distance and AF capability. It turns the DA 560mm ƒ/5.6 into a 784mm ƒ/8, retaining the weather resistance and 18.4-foot minimum focusing distance and contrast-based AF in Live View mode, but not phase-detection AF in Viewfinder mode. The converter can be used with many other Pentax lenses, providing phase-detection AF with those of ƒ/4 and faster. Estimated Street Price: $599. Contact: Ricoh Imaging, —MS

Seattle-based startup Mylio is making a cross-platform, cross-device app that could change your imaging life. You can access all of your images on all of your devices—laptop, desktop, smartphone and tablet—all the time, and you can edit, search, organize and send them in real time. Mylio is much more than a cloud-based archive; it gives you a way to truly get a grip on your entire imaging life. Estimated Street Price: Varies. Contact: Mylio, —CR

With the fast pace of change in technology and the rising popularity of mirrorless systems, you may find yourself with favorite lenses that don’t work with your new camera body. High-quality lens adapters like those from Novoflex let you pair a wide range of cameras with legacy lenses or optics from other makers. Want to use a Leica M lens with your Nikon 1? No problem! Novoflex adapters are available for most popular DSLR and mirrorless systems and lens lines. List Price: Varies depending on camera and lens combination. Contact: HP Marketing Corp., —WP

TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC UD
The Tamron SP 150-600mm supertele zoom is a budget wildlife photographer’s dream lens: a usable 600mm focal length for $1,069. Image quality is very good out to around 500mm, and 600mm is quite usable, especially when stopped down to ƒ/8. The Tamron also focuses 6 to 7 feet closer than the costly pro 600mm ƒ/4 lenses, handy when trying to get an angle on a relatively nearby bird perched among tree clutter, and is much lighter. And it can do birds in flight, although it’s slower than the pro supertele lenses. The SP 150-600mm also has the benefit of being a zoom: It’s not easy to “find” a flying bird with the narrow angle of view of 600mm, but with the Tamron, you can start at 150mm to “find” the subject, then zoom in on it. Tamron’s proprietary Vibration Compensation helps with handholding the 4.3-pound lens. The SP 150-600mm is a full-frame lens, but can, of course, also be used with APS-C cameras, and is available in Canon, Nikon or Sony A mount. Estimated Street Price: $1,069. Contact: Tamron USA, —MS

Seven apps in one, Perfect Photo Suite 9 from onOne Software includes powerful, yet easy-to-use tools to handle a variety of common photo tasks, as well as sophisticated special effects like replicating the look of tilt-shift lenses. New in Version 9 is an overhauled browser with new rating and keyword functions, improved masking and selection tools, and the Smart Photo feature, which lets you re-edit a photo and make changes to previous edits even after saving and closing the file. It works as a standalone app and also integrates with Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. List Price: $149. Contact: onOne Software, —WP

The Chronicle, from Domke‘s Next Generation line, incorporates pro photographers’ feedback for a more durable and protective camera bag. The main body uses the GearProtex customizable insert system, allowing you to shape and bend the self-adhering dividers to secure your DSLR, lenses and flash. The PocketFlex system allows the addition of self-adhesive pockets, patches and pouches for personalized accessory storage. The 15.75x7x10-inch bag also provides two expandable zippered side pockets, two expandable front pockets and a padded zippered tablet sleeve. Side rain hoods, a quiet system Velcro® silencer, grab strap and Gripper shoulder strap add to its versatility. Available in waxed Canvas and Cordura. List Price: $459. Contact: Tiffen, —AMT

Multirotor photo drones are becoming increasingly popular (be sure to check local laws regarding their use), and the Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter from DJI is a very good one that comes with everything you need to start aerial still or video shooting, including a 3-axis camera-stabilization gimbal, 14MP/1080 camera, ground station and software for your iOS or Android smartphone (which lets you see what the camera sees). The unit is ready to fly, right out of the box, and it’s easy to fly thanks to the Smart Flight controller, which provides programmed auto flight and manual control. Estimated Street Price: $1,159. Contact: DJI, —MS

Leica is known more for the elegance of their products than as a common-sense purchase. With the breathtaking T-System, however, I think they managed to hit the sweet spot of pricing and design through an absolutely minimal construction orchestrated in concert with Audi Design. While a 16-megapixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor doesn’t compete too well with modern specs of other, more affordable cameras, the Leica T is unabashedly about style, and even the sacrifice to megapixel count results in impressive and effortless imaging quality. While only a few lenses were introduced with it, the Leica T also sports a new mirrorless lens mount that can be adapted for the legacy of incredibly well-regarded Leica M-mount lenses. Estimated Street Price: $1,850. Contact: Leica Camera, —DW

A departure from typical camera straps, the Money Maker from HoldFast Gear lets you carry up to three cameras, securely attached via the camera’s side lug, with a slick design that allows you to quickly slide a camera along the leather harness into shooting position. Pair it with accessories like the Explorer Lens Pouch, Photo Belt and Indispensable Wallet for a unique alternative to a camera bag. List Price: From $200. Contact: HoldFast Gear, —WP

Outdoor photographers often encounter locations where the camera needs support, but none is readily available. Enter Gura Gear‘s Sabi Support Sack, a rugged, solid, yet flexible double-pillow “bean bag” support that’s easy to carry and can be used in a safari vehicle or just about anywhere to steady your camera. You can fill it with Gura’s buckwheat hulls, or whatever you can find on location if you don’t want to carry those. The Sabi is available in two sizes and two colors. Estimated Street Price: $39.95 (Sabi); $59.95 (Super Sabi). Contact: Gura Gear, —MS

The Flashpoint 3Pod H5 Ballhead is both reliable and portable. The CNC-forged aluminum construction increases durability while decreasing weight. The H5 fastens to a tripod body or center column or can be used alone as a tabletop mount. The 33mm ball has 360° panning capability and precise adjustment knobs for making measurements up to the millimeter. With a hydraulic damping system, the H5 supports up to 55 pounds of gear. The ballhead uses a rapid-locking quick-release plate system and a ¼-inch mounting screw. List Price: $149. Contact: Flashpoint (Adorama), —AMT

Today, more than ever, storage solutions are essential. High-megapixel digital cameras and HD—and even 4K—video capabilities mean the photographer needs plenty of storage, as well as quick performance. G-Technology‘s G-DRIVE USB is fast (USB 3.0, 3.5-inch 7200 rpm drive), affordable, compatible with Mac OS 10.7 (easily reformatted for Windows 8.1, 8 and 7) and comes in large capacities. All units measure 1.34×7.72×5.06 inches and feature aluminum enclosures. Estimated Street Price: $159 (2 TB); $179 (3 TB); $199 (4 TB); $399 (6 TB). Contact: G-Technology, —MS

The Comodo Orbit is the world’s first twin-grip mechanical gimbal camera-stabilization rig, and makes it easy to do tricky moving-camera video sequences. The twin-grip design reduces operator fatigue and makes it easy to pass the unit from one operator to another for those “through-the-window” shots. The unit is self-contained, with no weights, motors or batteries needed. It weighs 4.4 pounds and can support up to 11 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $1,099. Contact: Comodo, —MS

Known primarily for their video and computer components, AJA Video Systems introduced their first video camera, the CION, which sports a huge APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor with 4K capture and every video spec you could ever want, all at an incredibly low price point for this level of camera. With even better pricing and a native Canon EF lens mount (the CION can be outfitted with a third-party EF mount), Blackmagic Design announced two incredibly capable 4K imaging systems—the Studio 4K and the URSA. The URSA, with a 4K Super 35mm-sized sensor, is a high-end solution aimed at professional commercial productions while the Studio Camera is built for work in the studio. With Ultra HD and standard HD models, the Studio has a Micro Four Thirds mount that allows virtually any lens on the market to be adapted for use with the fully functioned systems. List Price: $8,995 (CION); $6,495 (URSA PL); $5,995 (URSA EF); $2,995 (Studio Camera 4K); $1,995 (Studio Camera HD). Contact: AJA Video Systems, Inc.,; Blackmagic Design, —DW

Offering photographs that can be refocused after they have been captured, Lytro‘s Illum camera is changing the way we think about depth of field, and photography, in general. The camera employs “light-field” technology to capture not only color information and luminosity, but also directional information of incoming light rays. Effectively, this eliminates aperture, as you can make choices over depth of field and focus after the fact, an exciting new approach to photography that could ultimately eliminate the need for separate lenses. I like the way the light-field approach gives a slightly 3D feel to imagery, as perspective can also be altered slightly. While it’s heavier than a compact camera at more than two pounds, a 30-250mm zoom lens captures each shot at ƒ/2 using computation rather than heavy lens elements. List Price: $1,599. Contact: Lytro, Inc., —DW

I always find the best macro moments when I’m not looking for them. I don’t carry my macro gear with me daily, so for those unplanned shots I carry the small Olloclip Macro 3-in-1 Photo Lens. The soft plastic lens attachment clips snugly to an iPhone 5/5s with aircraft-grade aluminum barrels housing coated glass multi-element optics. Remove the medium magnification 14x macro lens to reveal the 7x macro lens. Then reverse the attachment to use the 21x macro lens. Both the 14x and 21x lenses come with plastic hoods to ensure an optimal focus distance from the subject. A microfiber carrying case is included to keep the lenses clean and safe. List Price: $69. Contact: Olloclip, —AMT

SIGMA 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM
As a petite person, I’m always trying to keep my camera pack as small and light as possible. The Sigma 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM | C lens is an all-in-one shooter that lets me cut down on equipment while also ensuring I don’t miss a moment while switching lenses. Specifically designed for APS-C-sensor cameras, the lens has a 27-450mm focal-length equivalent for extensive range. Additionally, the lens has a 1:3 macro ratio for added versatility. Sigma has enhanced their Optical Stabilization and Hyper Sonic Motor to reduce camera shake and provide quick and quiet autofocus, respectively. The single SLD and four FLD glass elements ensure sharpness, high-quality contrast and controls for aberration. Extra Bonus: The lens is compatible with Sigma’s USB dock, making it possible to easily upgrade firmware and personalize focus parameters. List Price: $579. Contact: Sigma, —AMT

With an included interchangeable microphone system and high-quality, pro-level 24-bit/96k audio capture, the Zoom H6 includes everything I need for working with up to six tracks of audio capture with a DSLR or other camera system. The adjustable X/Y mic is ideal for most standard audio situations while an included MS module provides choice of a wider pickup pattern that can be adjusted in post. Estimated Street Price: $399. Contact: Zoom North America,—DW

LCD monitors tend to get smudged, especially touch screens. OnSlot‘s LCD Cleaner makes it easy to clean your monitor in the field, and conveniently mounts on the camera’s hot-shoe when not in use. It’s available in four colors: Polished Rosewood with black or white pedestal, Piano Black and Piano White. Add your personal logo for a small additional fee. Estimated Street Price: $9-$19. Contact: OnSlot, —MS

Weighing only 4.6 ounces, the Atomos Ninja Star is an extremely affordable, pocket-sized video recorder ideal for use with DSLRs or from remote devices like drones outfitted with action, POV or GoPro cameras. It gives me better and more versatile options for video capture like unrestricted clip lengths and edit-ready Apple ProRes video files straight from the camera. The basic recorder is a great companion for camera operators who may already own a monitor, while the much more capable Shogun is an alternate field recorder solution with incorporated 7-inch monitor. The Shogun is much more expensive than the Ninja Star, but it’s capable of capturing uncompressed RAW CinemaDNG video for the ultimate leverage in post and editing from cameras like the Sony a7S. List Price: $1,995 (Shogun); $295 (Ninja Star). Contact: Atomos, —DW

The Metabones Canon EF to Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter and Speed Booster is a smart way to adapt my Canon lenses to MFT cameras, including Olympus, Panasonic and Blackmagic models. Not only will the adapter work with EF mount lenses from Sigma, Tamron and Tokina, the optical device also enhances brightness and field of view by increasing the maximum aperture by one stop while magnifying a scene to make it 0.71x wider. This reduces the MFT format’s wide-angle-killing crop factor of 2.0x to 1.42x, a bonus for MFT users looking for better wide-angle coverage. List Price: $599. Contact: Metabones, —DW

At only $9.99 a month, Adobe‘s Creative Cloud Photography subscription makes a lot more sense than the comprehensive, but often overwhelming set of imaging programs currently offered as Creative Cloud Complete at $49.99 a month. Including Photoshop CC, Lightroom 5 and a free portfolio page on Behance, the Photography Plan includes everything you’ll need for image editing. If an image, video or project requires a deeper subset of controls, Adobe offers Single App subscriptions at $19.99 a month each. List Price: $9.99 a month; $119.88 a year. Contact: Adobe Systems,—DW